SEATTLE — As Brian Schmetzer was only too happy to point out in Sunday’s postgame press conference, there is no such thing as a “must-win” game in April. Hyperbole aside, though, the home game against Minnesota United got pretty close.
It wasn’t just that the Sounders came into the match winless, it was that they had already lost two very winnable home games. LAFC has proven themselves to be a better-than-normal expansion team, but their defense has also given up 13 goals. The Montreal Impact have given up 17 goals -- although they’ve also somehow managed to beat both of last year’s MLS Cup finalists. That the Sounders managed to get shut out by both of them — extenuating circumstances aside — should be concerning.
So while the math may have said a three straight losses at home aren’t the end of the world, our collective psyche definitely needed this.
To the degree that the Sounders managed to get three points and did it by scoring three times, consider this mission accomplished. There were other encouraging signs too: Nouhou had a solid bounce-back performance from last week’s debacle; Cristian Roldan again showed he may have some promise as a destroyer-10; Will Bruin continues to find ways to score; Osvaldo Alonso looked very much like the guy the Sounders used to build their teams around.
But let’s not kid ourselves, either. There were also plenty of signs that this remains a work in progress. After all, hosting Minnesota United is a game that literally every team in the league probably assumes they can win. Beyond that, for as good as the Sounders looked for the first 30 minutes, they eased off considerably and much of the second half was spent worrying that three points were not secure.
Roldan the Destroyer
There probably wasn’t a better player during that 30 minutes of dominance than Cristian Roldan. Deployed as what can best be described as a “destroyer 10”, Roldan was a beast in the offensive half of the field. When the Sounders had the ball, Roldan was a willing runner and repeatedly stretched the United backline. As soon as the ball turned over, he was haranguing the defenders.
There were, of course, the two assists. But he also had three key passes and three shots, including a near point-blank volley that was unfortunately right at Bobby Shuttleworth. The Sounders were their most dynamic version of themselves while Roldan was playing farther up the pitch. To the degree it’s even worth fantasizing about such things, this might be where Roldan belongs when the Sounders are at full strength.
The only downside to that was he didn’t seem to have nearly that energy down the stretch. After moving back alongside Svensson, he only had a single defensive action. I’m not necessarily surprised, but it does suggest that for as great as Roldan looked for stretches it might be not entirely realistic for him to maintain that for 90 minutes.
Speaking of Dempsey...
During the game, there seemed to be a building narrative that the Sounder sort of fell apart around the same time Dempsey entered. On a second watch, I think that’s a rather dramatic oversimplification.
As Schmetzer suggested in his postgame comments, the game started turn shortly after the Sounders scored their second goal. For simplicity, let’s break the game into three 30-minute segments. During the first, the Sounders out-shot Minnesota 8-1 and were justly ahead 2-0. During the second, United out shot the Sounders 7-3 (and two of the Sounders’ shots came about 10 seconds apart in the 58th minute). During the final 30 minutes or so, the Sounders had a 5-4 shots advantage. We don’t have quite that level of breakdown for the possession numbers, but the five-minute increments follow a similar trend.
All of that is to say, Dempsey was fine and his perfectly weighted — and impressively unselfish — assist to Jordy Delem was a good reminder that he still does stuff that not a lot of other players do.
Still, it’s a fair thing to wonder what his role will be going forward. I think Schmetzer offered a plausible explanation for why the 35-year-old didn’t start this one. He hadn’t played a competitive match in 35 days and hadn’t started in 39 days. With Osvaldo Alonso and Kelvin Leerdam also starting — two players who may have needed subs of their own — bringing Dempsey off the bench made a fair amount of sense.
But I suspect this won’t be the last time we see Dempsey not starting when plausibly fully fit. Playing him as a 10 undeniably requires everyone else to work a bit harder on defense and as much as he may help offensively, that’s not a tradeoff the Sounders will always be able to make. How Schmetzer manages that situation could well be the thing that defines this season.
How about Will Bruin, tho?
It seems almost a foregone conclusion that Will Bruin will eventually be displaced. Maybe not before the May 1 transfer deadline, but almost certainly before the end of the season. In the meantime, though, he’s doing a pretty good job keeping the spot warm. Bruin scored for a second straight game, yes, but he also had some nice hold-up play and had a perfectly respectable six defensive actions.
Bruin is far from perfect. There are times when he seems to want to be a player he simply isn’t: looking for balls in behind, attempting back-heels, and the like. Sometimes, it comes off, though.
It’s also worth a reminder that Bruin has been impressively efficient, too. He now has 15 goals in a little less than 2700 MLS minutes with the Sounders. He’s scoring about .51 goals per 90 minutes (the only Sounder with a better scoring rate is Obafemi Martins at .54). Love him or not, Bruin’s a useful guy to have around.
The game in a gif
I’ll admit there’s no narrative reason to show this, but I just love seeing Alex Roldan flexing on Ethan Finlay. (Editor’s note: Turns out that Finlay tore his ACL on this play, which is obviously awful. I don’t see Roldan doing anything particularly wrong, though, as he’s the one receiving the elbow to the face and Finlay has already planted himself when the contact comes.)
Quote of the day
“Yeah I told him (Ozzie) before we went out to warm up that if he didn’t do good I was gonna ‘chase you and kill you’ so I’m sure he was fired up.” — Gustav Svensson, who nearly pulled this off with a straight face. Nearly.
One stat to tell the tale
3 — Jordy Delem only took three touches: an incomplete pass, a tackle, and a shot. One of those touches, of course, resulted in a goal. That kind of day.